Yes Cubs fans, you read that correctly, and it’s not up for discussion according to Cubs skipper Dale Sveum, “It’s Bryan LaHair’s job, and it’s not his to lose. It’s his job and the guy has earned the right to have it and he’s earned the right for me to have a lot of patience too if he’s not getting off to a good start.” As Dale Sveum begins to dive into his first camp as the Cubs manager, he is starting to piece together what the opening day lineup will look like. Much to the surprise of many, the first decision that was made was that of Brian LaHair not only starting at first base, but hitting 4th, arguably the spot in the lineup for a teams biggest run producer. Cubs fans got a taste of LaHair at the end of last season, and one could say that LaHair’s performance was one of the few bright spots in a very dark season. In 59 at bats last season LaHair hit a respectable, if not solid .288 with a .377 on base percentage. That type of on base percentage was unheard of for a Cubs player last year given the complete lack of discipline and patience at the plate from the team as a whole, in fact LaHair’s OBP led the team, not counting Steve Clevenger who only had 4 at bats.
The Cubs really like the idea of having a big left handed bat in the lineup and at first base, it would appear that LaHair fits that mould, especially the “big” part. Standing at 6’5″ and 240 pounds it’s kind of hard to miss LaHair when is out on the field, or anywhere for that matter. The other big part of his game is the production he can give the team at a corner infield spot. LaHair had 17 hits with the Cubs last season, of those 17 hits, 8 were extra base hits (5 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 homeruns). Those are the types of numbers the Cubs are looking for with guys on base and in scoring position, especially from the #4 hitter in the lineup. Can LaHair shoulder that load, and expectations? The way I like to answer that is,
well, it can’t really get any worse right? The Cubs as a team last year hit .232 with runners in scoring position, that was “good” enough for 25th in baseball. If the Cubs want to compete this year they are going to have to make a major improvement in that number. Once again, LaHair will be counted on to help this number out, but he will have to make improvements over last years numbers to do so. In very limited action with runners in scoring position (16 at bats) LaHair hit .188, with 1 home run, and 4 rbi’s. Will early season struggles cost LaHair his job, especially if Anthony Rizzo is tearing up AAA, Dale Sveum says not so fast, “[LaHair] is going to play well and as long as he plays well, it’s his job,” Sveum said. “It’s not like anybody is going to panic after a month if he’s not playing well, or even two months if he’s not swinging the bat well. I think right now it’s a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A and let him be comfortable instead of moving him up and down and all that stuff.” Talk about a vote of confidence from your manager, and what refreshing words those are. I know what Sveum is doing, why put a guy in a position to fail right out of the box? Sveum is letting everyone know, including Bryan, that he can go out there and play baseball without worrying about what the box score says a night after the game. He’s going to struggle at times, but he also might impress at times, that’s what you get when you take a guy that has only 219 plate appearances at the Major League level (LaHair had 150 plate appearances in Seattle in 2008) and thrust him into such an important role in the lineup.
LaHair’s Minor League Career:
Nine total seasons
Career – .295 AVG / 159 HR / 651 RBI / .362 OBP / .503 SLG / .865 OPS (Just over 3600 at bats)
The last three years at the AAA are what earned LaHair an opportunity to be where he is at now.
2009 – .289 AVG / 26 HR / 85 RBI / .354 OBP / .530 SLG / .883 OPS
2010 – .308 AVG / 25 HR / 81 RBI / .385 OBP / .557 SLG / .942 OPS
2011 – .331 AVG / 38 HR / 109 RBI / .405 OBP / .664 SLG / 1.070 OPS
Quality numbers to say the least, but the jury is still out on LaHair in terms of being able to come anywhere near those types of numbers at the Major League level. One thing is certain, he will get his shot, and he will be allowed to fail and keep his job which says a lot about the Cubs. If he comes anywhere near those types of numbers the Cubs might not only be good, but they might contend right away in a weaker than normal Central Division. Given his age (29) and lack of big league experience a lot of people are pegging LaHair to be one of those AAAA hitters, meaning elite AAA player, but will never make it in the Majors. Let’s hope LaHair and the Cubs, prove a lot of people wrong.
Thanks for reading
– George Cotugno